4 Ways Ag Retailers Can Offer Career Growth Without Promotion

As businesses compete to attract top-notch talent, the need to retain and engage existing employees becomes increasingly important. Employees consistently cite career development as critical to their satisfaction with an organization, and the lack of it is a key reason why they change jobs. In fact, there have been several well-known surveys on employee satisfaction and engagement that all confirm that employee development is noted by employees as the most important tool in talent retention.


In today’s workplace, career advancement is no longer about getting a promotion to gain experience. Today successful organizations are improving their ability to grow and retain top employees by helping them make strategic moves forward in knowledge and ability. This is great news for most small- to mid-sized businesses that lack the size to operate and promote within a complex organizational chart.

Unfortunately, most development programs created by employers miss the target on this opportunity. They treat employee development as a one-size-fits-all program, which significantly limits the impact the program can have on employee retention.

In each organization, the employees most at risk for departure are:

  • Rewards-oriented individuals
  • Skill-oriented employees
  • High performers
  • Employees right for your company but in the wrong role

You may look at this list and think “that’s my whole team,” and you might be correct! A 2018 Gallup survey suggests that only 34% of U.S. workers are engaged in their employment. This makes the opportunity to switch from their current job to do something new or join another organization to learn something new a viable option for the other 66%.

By investing in your employees, by helping with their career development, your employees are more likely to invest their career in your company in return. Here are a few suggestions that will help your company provide a customized approach to growth for each employee:

1. Personalized Development Plans. In previous articles on CropLife.com we discussed the value of a 100-day plan in hiring and onboarding your new employees. The same concept holds true for your tenured employees as well. Employees are far more engaged and focused when the plan is something they write rather than a guide that you give them based on what you think they might want to do. The plan should be something the supervisor and employee create together while based on the career goals of the employee.

2. Measure and Benchmark Progress. The principle “You can’t improve what you don’t measure” applies to employee growth and development. An employee development plan is a living document in a constant state of change. Adjustments are necessary to keep the plan relevant and on target. Some of these adjustments may be due to a shift in the employee’s personal/career goals, while others may be a result of the employee needing additional time to gain knowledge in an area. Regardless of reason, it’s difficult to determine the appropriate changes without tracking progress. Specific and measurable metrics are key to helping an employee understand what is expected and where they need to be to be considered successful.

Successful employee growth and engagement requires an ongoing list of small accomplishments rather than the result of attaining a specific goal. Before runners step up to the starting line of a marathon, they first train for distances much shorter than 26.2 miles. Each week they work to achieve a new distance and only add more when that previous goal is met. Employee development is very similar. A plan is created based on the career goals of the individual. Once underway, the employee and manager discuss where they are with respect to the monthly or quarterly benchmarks they’ve set. If things are going well — you move ahead. However, if things aren’t going to plan, the benefit of several shorter benchmarks and small adjustments will keep things on track. If the plan was based on annual targets with an annual review, getting an entire year back on track would require a significant effort. That effort often results in frustration, disengagement, and a high risk of employee turnover.

3. Lateral Growth Opportunities. Two challenges are constant in today’s business. Managers typically have more on their plate than they can handle, and good leaders require a perspective of their organization beyond their current line of business that is difficult to understand until they have been in that role. Creating lateral learning opportunities for your staff addresses both of those challenges. Lateral learning happens when you give an employee the opportunity to participate in another area of your business. These opportunities are at a level of responsibility equal to their current position (hence the name lateral) but give them valuable perspective and experience in other sectors of your business. Additionally, by giving some of this responsibility to your employee, you are taking some items off your own plate. It’s a win-win for everyone!

4. Growth-Focused Projects. Like lateral learning, giving employees the opportunity to participate in, or even lead, projects that align with their personal development plans is a winning solution. Think about all the projects on your plate as a manager, then consider who on your team would benefit from serving on a team while developing additional skills. Again, their assistance may take things off your to-do list while providing them with valuable experience. As a bonus, you will have an additional person on your team who will have bought into the project and can help you integrate it into the rest of your team.

The standard rule of thumb is the cost of replacing a valued employee is at least 2.5 times their annual compensation. With that in mind, taking the time and effort to integrate some of these ideas into your organization is an investment that will always generate positive long-term returns.